Photo: Private archive

Would the "male gaze" dominate if women were allowed to express their world view

Painter Tanja Markuš believes that women are systematically omitted from the history of art, which can be said to be based on a disturbed value system

18622 views 4 comment(s)
Photo: Private archive
Photo: Private archive
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate.

For centuries, women have been systematically left out of art history, which can be said to be based on a deranged value system - a system always centered on the white male.

However, women have always been an important part of the cultural scene, either as authors or patrons of art, according to painter Tanja Markuš.

She tells "Vijesti" that by reviewing the history of art, we can see women - whether they are lovers, victims or actors of violence - painted as fragile, tender and extremely eroticized beings: women as objects of enjoyment, rarely as bearers of thought processes.

She points out that during the fifteen years of her artistic practice, she experimented with different artistic media, but painting and drawing remained her primary expression.

"When was it ever decided that art was not a profession for women? Researches of cave drawings and figurines like the Venus of Willendorf tell us that most of them were made by the hand of a woman. In the records of the Roman writer Pliny the Elder we find information that the first drawing was made by a woman called Dibutades when she drew the silhouette of her lover on the wall. It was only with the strengthening of Christian dogma that women were relegated to the background of creative activity. And in Western culture, women were allowed to attend art academies only in the 19th century, but at first studies of applied art were reserved for them, which did not qualify as 'high' art. When they were finally allowed to study painting and sculpture, they were not allowed to directly study the nude. Given that analytical drawing and painting of the naked body was a prerequisite for art education, men were again in a huge advantage," reminds Markuš.

Tanja Markuš works
photo: Tanja Markuš

After devoting a lot of time to analytical drawing, she states, I began to distinguish two creative approaches that coexist in my work: the first is formed in a series of drawings that were created in sketchbooks, spontaneously, without the prior intention of constructing a specific content: Experiences of light , observations of nature, dreams and hypnagogic visions intertwined in a condensed atmosphere of rhythmic and tonal indications from which the figurative content is revealed seemingly by itself. The second approach refers to a preconceived idea that is shaped and transformed through painting and drawing processes.

"From both of these approaches I understood that decisions based on intuition are often more important than rational choices because they reveal truths that cannot be grasped by logic. The very initial intention of the artist is simply the stimulus to create while the direction of the artwork is dictated by the creative process itself. The need to articulate the imagination, by creating something that goes beyond the learned and perceived - the desire to surprise myself by discovering something I didn't even know I was looking for is the main driving force of my artistic creation," Markuš points out.

However, this understanding of the artist as a conductor of unconscious, primordial knowledge, according to the painter, is often not in accordance with contemporary "definitions" of what artistic expression should be, because a large part of the contemporary scene is not concerned with aesthetic and formal innovations, but is focused to the use of art as an instrument of socially responsible dialogue.

Tanja Markuš works
photo: Tanja Markuš

"We live in a time in which there is a general attitude that it must have a precisely defined social role and many artists blindly follow that trend - they give up the very nature of art in order to turn it into a surrogate for political action. Looking and reading about these practices, one question we constantly imposed itself: How can a specific purpose be attributed to something that has eluded definition for centuries, which is based more on intuitive than on rational decisions," Markuš asks.

She says that she got the impression that "contemporary practice is shaped by frustration with the achievements of the old masters, which denies them as outdated, simultaneously rejecting mimesis, the knowledge derived from traditional artistic procedures and giving up on intuition and imagination".

"I believe that all artists strive to create something new, but if this new art exists only after the abolition of all previously known principles of artistic creation, such destruction is cowardice unworthy of an artist. For me, the works of the old masters, apart from being a source of knowledge and inspiration, are and a reminder that it can always do better. Psychology explains the hidden mission of art by its ability to extract from the collective memory the forms that the current epoch lacks the most. Or, as Nick Cave says, the author's task is not to save the world, but the soul of the world... I think it's time for art to return to its true nature, because only from that position can it have a social impact," believes Tanja Markuš.

Artistic perception, as she sees it, implies penetrating into the core of the observed and imagined phenomenon.

Tanja Markuš works
photo: Tanja Markuš

"By transferring this complex process of observation to social problems, art helps us shed light on them, improve the level of analysis, and awaken critical consciousness. It has the power to summarize opinions, impressions, attitudes into clear messages that the observer quickly loads, and which act on both the intellectual and on an emotional level. It also communicates with different social categories, overcoming generational, gender, national, religious and other differences. That is why it is important to rebuild an artistically sensitive society, which, unfortunately, has been systematically kept at a distance from culture, art and knowledge and thus, uncritically, subject to manipulation, it becomes fertile ground for the non-culture of violence to flourish. This is especially evident from the senseless dialogue about the demolition of Njegoš's mausoleum, in which it did not occur to any wise head that it was a work of art by a famous Yugoslav sculptor and therefore represented a cultural the good of Montenegro. However, for the above-mentioned reasons, our society is not even aware of why it is important to preserve cultural assets, it is not aware that cultural wealth is a greater reflection of national identity than crazy waving of flags," warns the artist.

Therefore, as he underlines, it is time for the artistic vocation to be understood as a serious profession in Montenegro, with the potential to contribute to the development of society, and to, as in other areas, stand in the way of non-transparent distribution of resources and the placement of incompetent persons in decision-making positions.

In most paintings throughout history, we can see women - whether lovers, victims or actors of violence - depicted as fragile, tender and highly eroticized beings: women as objects of enjoyment, rarely as bearers of thought processes. This position of women as a passive object was transferred from the canvas to the film, where aesthetic choices and the very language of the film deepen the oppressive patterns of thought and behavior that keep women in a subordinate position. However, these patterns still dominate visual content - from art to video games, which are especially responsible for their spread because they affect users from the earliest ages: The player needs to 'make it in life' by choosing between an ordinary and an expensive car, phone , or 'ordinary' or pregnant women. Guess which one costs more

"When the artistic voice is raised for the common good, and not for one's own interests, the possibility will open for the emancipatory role of art, which is the basis of this call. Art must not be conditioned by any factors that have nothing to do with its ideas. The creative act is founded in spirituality which is a gender/racial/nationally neutral category. There are no specific characteristics of the works created by women or men on the basis of which a division could be made into women's and men's art. If we go through the history of art, the poetics of female artists are stylistically more similar to the poetics of their male counterparts who created in the same periods or belonged to the same movements, but to each other. Promoting female artists in a specially reserved, isolated space does not contribute either to the overall cultural dialogue or to their equal participation on the art scene. As the British painter Jenny Saville says, it gets on my nerves when they call me a female artist because only when that disappears will women really be part of the culture," explains Markuš.

And, as she warns, contemporary stereotypes about women's nature and sexuality are based precisely on the painting of female nudes.

"In most paintings throughout history, we can see women - whether lovers, victims or actors of violence, are painted as fragile, tender and extremely eroticized beings: women as objects of enjoyment, rarely as bearers of thought processes. This position of women as a passive object is from the painting screen transferred to film, where the aesthetic choices and the very language of the film deepen the oppressive patterns of thought and behavior that keep women in a subordinate position. The question is whether the perspective of the 'male gaze' would dominate the representation of reality if women were allowed to express their view of the world What do they live in? However, these patterns continue to dominate visual content - from art to video games, which are particularly responsible for their spread because they affect users from the earliest ages: The player needs to 'make it in life' by choosing between ordinary and an expensive car, a phone, or a 'regular' or a pregnant woman. Guess which costs more. The other chooses what to break the shower glass with to see the naked blonde. After all the forms and movements of liberation of sexuality from the sixties onwards, this should be overcome by now. I am sure that the education of female artists, activists, programmers, illustrators... will create a counterbalance that will correct this distorted image. That's why it's important to transfer knowledge selflessly, because we fight with it," concludes painter Tanja Markuš.

Tanja Markuš
photo: Private archive

Marginalization of visual artists in the Balkans

In the Institute for the Study of Cultural Development from Serbia, 2021/22. In XNUMX, the research "Identities of women in contemporary visual creativity" was carried out, which is part of the European project of Biljana Jotić "Rise of women in culture in the Western Balkans".

The research using the survey technique was carried out on a sample of 256 female respondents, visual artists from Slovenia, Montenegro, Croatia, North Macedonia and Serbia, which represents 85.3 percent of the sample. Research using the interview technique was conducted on a sample of 30 female curators, randomly selected based on expert assessment.

In the research, the authors dealt with the topic of (non)presence and (in)visibility of women - visual artists in contemporary creativity, as well as their identities, viewed from the point of view of the curators as well as the visual artists themselves. The first data obtained shows that slightly more than 40 percent of visual artists believe that they are still insufficiently visible today. Namely, although women have always been part of the history of visual art, they were not present with the same intensity and continuity as men.

The question is: why is that so? Given that in Serbia and other countries of the Balkan region where the research was conducted, a conservative attitude towards women prevails in general, this affects their marginalization and lesser presence in the system of visual creativity. The unexamined field of their (un)representation in museum and gallery collections, the (un)treatment of their works within the framework of art history, the (un)preserved archival material about them opens up, which results in less visibility of women in visual creativity.

Bonus video: